As many NBA hopefuls waited inside Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in June to learn where they would be drafted, a 6-foot-7 wing from Florida State arrived at a nearby restaurant where a party in his honor was under way.
Nearly 50 well-wishers showed up that night to say hello to Terance Mann. They included his grandparents, a youth coach, and his first babysitter. They ate from plates of chicken wings, curry chicken and salad.
But Daynia La-Force had no appetite.
Her stomach was in knots because, as a Division I basketball coach for nearly 25 years, La-Force knew there was no guarantee that Mann, the oldest of her two sons, would be taken among that night’s 60 draft picks.
When Mann, his mother and father, and a college assistant coach eventually left the party and arrived at Barclays Center via Uber ride, they watched from the stands. Two hours passed. So did the first round, and much of the second.
“Agony,” La-Force said.
Then, with the 48th pick, came relief — because a night that started with family ended with Mann joining the Clippers, a team that felt like an extension of it.
Perhaps no team had a deeper scouting report on a prospect than the Clippers did with Mann. One Clippers scout, Leo Papile, has not only known Mann since he was 13 but become a powerful mentor in his life.
“Leo’s become a part of our family,” La-Force said.
Just the same, perhaps no prospect felt a stronger connection to a team than Mann did with the Clippers, and not only because of Papile’s presence. Growing up as the son of a coach, Mann often heard his mother praise Paul Hewitt, a current Clippers scout whom La-Force admired from his speeches at Black Coaches Assn. conventions. Mann later knew Hewitt because he was close with an assistant coach on the Florida State staff.
Mann was also familiar with Clippers coach Doc Rivers in ways most prospects are not, considering La-Force used to copy his plays and show her sons why they worked.
“It’s really crazy,” Mann said. “Paul Hewitt, that was my mom’s favorite college coach, Doc was her favorite NBA coach and Leo was my AAU coach. And now we’re all here.
“You couldn’t write it any better than this.”
The storybook first chapter of his career has continued in training camp, where praise has followed Mann for his maturity and versatility, even as he is adjusting to playing point guard, a responsibility he was not asked to shoulder in college. Mann finished with eight points, nine rebounds and four assists in Thursday’s preseason-opening loss, a performance that could be a harbinger of a large role for the rookie. Should the Clippers go deep into next spring’s playoffs, there already appears to be a chance for Mann to be a key contributor off the bench.
Rivers believes Mann can become a “big-time” defender and grow into his point-guard duties.
“He’s never played the position but he has always been a point guard,” said Rivers, himself an off-ball wing in college who became a primary ballhandler as an NBA rookie. “He just didn’t know it and now he knows it.”
What Rivers didn’t know was that Mann has been familiar with his coaching for years.
La-Force, who coached Northeastern’s women’s basketball team from 2006-14, often took her sons to watch Celtics home games from the upper deck during Rivers’ tenure as coach. The outings were basketball research disguised as family time. Once, the family received passes to meet players postgame and sharpshooter Ray Allen gave Mann a 30-minute clinic on shooting and playing with confidence, La-Force said.
The more common experience after Celtics games, however, involved La-Force diagramming for her sons the out-of-bounds plays Rivers had run — the same plays she intended to use at Northeastern.
“Oh, she’d show them to me,” Mann said.
As Mann studied Rivers from a distance, he grew close with Papile, who has tutored future NBA players such as Patrick Ewing, Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel during more than four decades with the storied Boston Amateur Basketball Club.
La-Force’s hours were long. Mann’s father, Eustace, is an “influential and constant figure” in their sons’ lives, La-Force said, but the couple are divorced. She wanted a club that would create structure and demand accountability.
“I was a full-time basketball coach, seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” La-Force said. “I was rarely home with my boys. I needed a community. I leaned on AAU coaches, I leaned on teachers, I leaned on a lot of people.”
Papile’s club created that extra layer of security, along with a path to Florida State and the NBA. Mann talks with Papile often.
“He taught me how to be a star in my role and if you do that, you’ll win,” Mann said.
Added La-Force: “That relationship is never ending.”
Family members later told La-Force that upon Mann’s selection, the party at the restaurant exploded in cheers. There was joy in the stands at Barclays Center, too. La-Force felt gratitude.
It was why, shortly after the 48th pick was announced, she reached for her phone and called Papile.
“I said thank you,” La-Force said. “He said, ‘Congratulations, we love him.’”